This year’s Rock on Runway fashion show by UTChinese was a huge improvement over what I heard of last year. The venue was larger, the designs were of higher quality, and there was a bigger turnout. Walking in, I immediately felt like I was in a scene from The Devil Wears Prada. Chic remixes and mainstream songs blared through the Grand Hall of Hart House, a carpeted catwalk took up the centre, and photographers and journalists were all seated in the front for the best seats in the house.

After 20 minutes of mingling, the emcee walked out to give the introduction. He welcomed the four judges: Adrian Wu, a celebrated Canadian designer who has been featured in ELLE, The Globe and Mail, and CBC; Hilary MacMillan, a Toronto womenswear designer who has been featured in FLARE and NOW magazine; Som Kong, an award-winning recent Ryerson graduate who’s a Toronto-based womenswear and menswear designer; and lastly, Lu Ann Lafrenz, program director of fashion design at Ryerson. He then went on to explain that the seven designers will be showing off the work they did in pairs as well as work they did on their own in hopes of scoring the titles of Viewers’ Choice and/or Judges’ Pick.

The paired designs came up first, the theme being angels and devils. Designers Melissa Williams and Fong Ki Wan went first, earning praise from the judges for the individuality of Wan’s piece. The dress was made from shower curtains, garbage bags, and a material used to tarp furniture before you paint a room.

Next was Serean Bechara and Wesley Tang, whom the judges deemed the best pairing. Their pieces were elegant and original, which brought positive comments from the judges. What impressed them most was how, for Tang’s piece, he said he had used real Swarovski crystals on his model’s dress and sewed them on one by one.

Following them was Tashana McDonald and DaThao Chu. Chu explained that the inspiration for her piece, the angel piece, stemmed from her belief that not every angel is perfect. She used bits of red in the dress to symbolize this and it worked quite well as a whole. The judges commended both works as being the most wearable of the ones they’d seen.

Finally was Nusrat Hossain, who designed both pieces on her own due to her partner, Sarah Arruntegui, having to drop out for “unforeseeable reasons”. For her devil dress she used red lace on the bottom, claiming that her choice stemmed from wanting to choose a colour that was feminine but also powerful. Wu loved the angel dress but hated the top of the devil one, telling her he was angry just looking at it. MacMillan chimed in to say that there was no cohesive theme but applauded Hossain on having completed both works solo.

The designers then had the chance to showcase their individual works. The audience was shown the inspiration for their collection, which was a short film by UTChinese, Jamais Vu. The designers were to create something based on the theme of “true love”.

Up first was Williams. Her dress’s most standout feature was the fur sleeves, which she explained came from her desire of wanting to capture the “fuzziness” of what was going on in the film. The judges commended her choice and the audience praised her work as well.

Next was Wan, whose dress consisted of intricate paper patterns inspired by Chinese culture. Kong mentioned how she was the thriftiest of the night because when you work with less, you’re more creative. However, Wu told her he thought the dress looked cheap but he liked the paper cut on the top.

Bechara was next with her model wearing a black dress covered in buttons and a corset top. She mentioned that she understood that everything in fashion had pretty much been done before so she wanted to take these well-known elements and make them new. She added a lot of detail that forced the audience to pay attention to the detail. Lafrenz admitted she didn’t even see these intricate details before they were pointed out to her. MacMillan and Wu also applauded the intricacy but Kong made note of how there seemed to be a lot going on.

Next was Tang, whose dress was easily one of the most appreciated of the night. His model wore an asymmetrical silver dress with incredible draping, which was one of the details most commented on by the judges. Tang explained that his design came from what he took away from the film, which was two people coming together. He used two different pieces in his dress to symbolize opposites attracting. LaFrenz loved it, Wu adored the draping and said it was his favourite dress of the night, MacMillan said it was one of her favourites of the night, and Kong said he liked the fit, calling the finished work “beautiful”.

McDonald followed, having worked with a heavier, deep red upholstery material for the jacket. Kong loved it and said he’d wear it because the stiff material makes it more menswear. The judges commended McDonald for her choice in fabric, commenting on how difficult they know it is to work with upholstery.

Chu was next with a jumpsuit style piece in a mostly floral pattern with a white belt and white trim on the sleeves. She explained that she didn’t want it to be too serious and the contrasting fabrics symbolized the relationship of the couple in the film. Lu commented on how it was very wearable and youthful while also being consistent. He also drew attention to the Japanese inspiration for the kimono-style sleeves. Kong appreciated that it was a jumpsuit, applauding her for being different and thinking outside the box. However, Chu wasn’t satisfied with her piece, admitting that she would shorten the bottom by two inches if she could. She added that she wasn’t happy with the design, but MacMillan said she should stick by her piece despite her own criticism.

Hossain was last with a dress she explained was inspired by old Hollywood glam. Her main idea behind the dress was to capture what the female protagonist felt along with how Hossain felt after watching Jamais Vu. LaFrenz commented on how the dress seemed “very Audrey Hepburn”, while Wu admitted that he didn’t like the fabric choice.

While the votes were being tallied, 2014 Rock on Runway winner Lesley Hampton returned to show off 12 new pieces and give a small interview. After her pieces were shown, a series of emerging designers showcased their work. Charlotte Brownies, Fresh Collective, Shelfies (the first menswear to be present at the show), Runway Luxe, and a collection of six pieces from Kong entitled “My Heart Is Turning Grey” were all shown. They were also the pieces that were available for purchase on the spot.

The emcee then returned to present the awards. Viewers’ Choice went to Bechara, which earned her a Polaroid camera. For the Judges’ Pick, Wan was second runner-up and Tang took home the main prize for his draped dress, which earned him the incredible prize of a trip to Paris for Fashion Week.

This was my first fashion show, and I must say I was thoroughly impressed with the designs, especially since they were made by students in less than 13 days. With it having been such a drastic change from last year, I look forward to what UTChinese will expand on next year.

The winning designer was given a trip to Paris for Fashion Week.
The winning designer was given a trip to Paris for Fashion Week.

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